What Differentiates A Heat Pump From An AC Unit

Posted on: 8 July 2016

Both AC units and heat pumps have two sets of coils: one set located inside your house and one located on the outside of your house. Both heat pumps and AC units come in window-mounted and central air models. Both heat pumps and AC units can be used to cool a home. Thus, you might be wondering if there is any difference between the two and if so, if there is any advantage to choosing one unit over the other. The answer is that there is a big difference between a heat pump and AC unit, and in some cases, a heat pump is a better option than an AC unit. 

How Does an AC Unit Work?

An AC unit circulates a refrigerant from a set of condenser coils to a set of evaporator coils and back. The names indicate what is happening to the refrigerant when it reaches each set of coils. In the case of the evaporator coils, the evaporator fan pushes warm air from your house over a system of fins through which the refrigerant runs. The heat in the air inside your home causes the refrigerant to vaporize, and as it does, it absorbs heat from the air. The superheated, vaporized refrigerant than cycles to the condenser coils where a second fan pushes relatively cool outside air over the refrigerant, causing it to expel heat and condense back to a liquid. 

How Is a Heat Pump Different?

A heat pump differs from an AC unit in that the function of the coils can be reversed. Thus, you can still use the coils inside your house to cool inside air and the outside coils to expel heat. On the other hand, you can reverse the function of the coils to absorb heat from the outside air and expel it into your home to provide heating during the winter. 

Is a Heat Pump Right for You?

When you choose heating and cooling equipment for your home, you need to consider the climate you live in. A heat pump, for example, is at its most efficient when outside temperatures are moderate. If, however, you have to deal with below-freezing temperatures during the winter, your heat pump will be grossly inefficient and may not even be able to keep up with heating demands of your home. Thus, if you live in the North, you are probably better served to go with an AC/furnace combo to provide heating and cooling to your home. If you live in the South, you can probably get away with just using a heat pump.

Talk to an HVAC contractor for more information if you have questions about which equipment is right for your home. 


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